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Iowa State Football Post-Mortem: UNI

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A slow start eventually became a good win for a young, but experienced Cyclone team.

NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

After getting off to a slow start on both sides of the ball, the Cyclones’ talent and coaching took over, leading the team to a comfortable win over in-state rival UNI. Let’s take a look at what went right and what went less right. I’m a good-news-second kind of guy, so let’s start off with what needs improvement.

What Went Wrong

Slow Start for the Offense (and Defense)

While expecting the team to come out and immediately shut down UNI, ordinarily toting a Big 12-caliber running game, was probably unrealistic, the ease with which UNI drove down the field on the first drive of the game was a bit concerning for Cyclone fans. UNI was able to use excellent play design and zone blocking to gain solid yardage on first down and set up for conversions on second and third down.

The offense got off to its own slow start, failing to reach the endzone until nearly the end of the second quarter. Part of this can be attributed to the two consecutive UNI possessions which ended in defensive touchdowns for Iowa State, resulting in less than four total minutes of offensive possession for the Cyclones in the first quarter. The other main factor was the conservative play-calling, mostly consisting of inside runs and horizontal screen passes. The offense tried to lure UNIs weaker secondary into cheating on screen passes, and the Panther defense quickly disrupted the timing on the offense.

Slow Reads for Jacob Park

By the end of the game, Park had completed 27 of 35 (77%) passes for two touchdowns and one interception. While the stat line is fairly impressive and leaves almost no room for complaint, Park was far from perfect. Fans in the stands on Saturday may have noticed some missed or very slow reads from Jacob Park, one of which led to his only interception. The quarterback certainly improved throughout the game as the offense got into its rhythm, but this week’s film sessions will surely pick up on a number of late and missed reads by Park.

At Times, a Shaky Secondary

The defense’s strongest unit was mostly solid, but, like Park, will have plenty to review in this week’s film sessions. Blown coverages will happen throughout a game, even for the best defenses, but the Cyclone secondary gave up some inexcusable completions in the 15-25 yard range due to simple blown coverages. Most commonly, the corner would stay in the flats (such as in a cover-2 defense), while the safety was playing a high middle zone typically associated with a cover-4. This miscommunication left a gap in the coverage along the sidelines after the first 10 yards, which UNI exploited. Those types of mistakes will go away as the season progresses, but would expect a secondary as experienced and talented as Iowa State’s to mostly avoid those mistakes.

Another thing the secondary will be sure to work on is keeping their hips and heads on a swivel. More than a couple times, the corner was caught staring at the receiver, unable to make a play on a few passes which were easily defensed, but ended up as first down catches.

What Went Right

The Offensive and Defensive Lines

For any semi-engaged Cyclone fan, both lines were expected to be a point of major concern coming into the 2017 season. While concerns about experience and depth still loom, both lines played well on Saturday.

The offensive line played well on Saturday using a variety of combinations of lineman, a sign of depth in the unit. Jake Campos provided his usual stalwart performance, and Josh Knipfel showed his talent in his first game as a Cyclone. The running did struggle to gain some push early on, but holes and edges began to regularly appear for David Montgomery & Co. beginning in the second quarter. As expected, pass blocking was exceptional, and Jacob Park had loads of time to sit back and make his reads while rarely feeling much, if any, pressure from the UNI defensive front.

The defensive line really showed it’s talent, as the unit was able to consistently apply pressure to UNIs quarterback, despite the Panthers’ offensive line, which is generally quite good (maybe even Power-5 quality). Ray Lima and Vernel Trent were particularly impressive, forcing the UNI running backs to make early decisions, usually to bounce outside and play into Joel Lanning, Willie Harvey, and Kamari Cotton-Moya.

Worth noting, Kamilo Tongamoa actually got some pretty significant playing time, and looked pretty good. He constantly made a good push into the backfield, only to stymie himself with a spin move. As he plays more and watches more game film, his maturation will certainly be worth watching, as his talent for the position was quite apparent.

David Montgomery

It may not be physically possible to tackle David Montgomery on the first try. Need proof?

How about this?

Or this?

Raise your hand if you watched him truck the safety at least 10 times. *raises both hands and feet*

Or this?

You may have noticed something. Those runs were THREE CONSECUTIVE PLAYS. Any one of those plays is impressive on its own, then you realized he did all of them, in a row, without coming out of the game for a rest. Good luck, opposing defenses.

The Wide Receivers

Guess what folks. They are as good as advertised, especially Hakeem Butler and Trever Ryen, who both set personal records for receptions at 7 and 6, respectively. In the offseason, Matt Campbell said Hakeem Butler may be the most talented guy in the receiver room. You know what? He might be right. Butler was a massive problem (literally) for the Panthers all night, utilizing solid route running and sure hands to carve up the Panthers’ secondary. Park consistently found Butler sneaking into holes in the defense and using his 6’6” frame to simply snatch the ball out of the air, making it impossible for a corner or safety to defend.

Conclusion

Overall, the Cyclones probably performed better than most expected, especially in the trenches, and improved throughout in each phase which had a slow start. Cyclone fans should be pleased with the performance in a comfortable win, and knowing that many the issues the Cyclones faced on Saturday will fix themselves as the season goes on.

Grades

Offense: B+

Defense: B-

Special Teams: A